Mr. P. Griffiths - Cabinet Member for Education and Schools
Dear Mr. Griffiths,
Despite the acceptance of the lack of provision, assurances from the Local Authority, and the ongoing support of our local M.P. Mr. Andrew Tyrie we have still not had a final agreement on the sixth form development at St. Anthony’s School. The fact remains that our children currently have statements of educational needs which ‘should’ outline the level of support they require to receive appropriate education. On reaching16 we have a right to keep them on statement and to insist that the Local Authority meets their statutory duty to provide an appropriate education for them until 19 (and 25 in certain circumstances).
The current procedure has its roots in making the most of a lack of provision. Parents report that their children are being ‘groomed’ – particularly by the Connexions service, from the age of 14 to accept that they will be going onto Chichester college, and other FE settings, some have been told that it -‘it is usual that the moving on plan replaces the statement at 16’ – some are even guided to distant or out of county placements to accommodate them because there is no alternative locally. In the worst cases this had lead to complete exclusion. The situation has lead to the College taking on students that it may not be adequately set up for, either environmentally, suitable academic courses or in terms of qualified support.
This practice has meant places being offered to students whose parents have not been correctly informed of their rights or options based on a (s139a) form filled out by unqualified staff at Connexions. When students struggle or fall out of college later there is little or no tracking to encourage them back and no redress with regard to the statement of special educational needs (which would have by then, been discontinued).
Ultimately the problem has lead to exclusions or students having to take unsuitable part-time, standardised life skills courses because they feel that they have no alternative & parents who feel pressurised into agreeing because they do not fully understand their rights. We can refuse the involvement of Connexions advisors if necessary and some of us are opting to do so by writing to them directly and then taking advice from independent organisations and advocates.
Parents feel that many of our children are not on the same level of maturity as those from mainstream settings when leaving school at 16. There is not only a strong feeling that our children need to remain at school for longer; but that they should not be expected to pass exams equivalent to mainstream children at similar ages merely to reach a low grade; or indeed to leave school with non curriculum examination passes and awards which are of little value in the employment market. Many of these children have the potential to achieve good grades in mainstream examinations if given extended and appropriate support to enable them to access suitable courses at post 19 and follow their desired path.
The hopes for a sixth form are to increase the time spent in a school setting and regain some of the time lost for many in tribunals and exclusions as well as helping those who are less mature or behind average to catch up both socially and academically, and further reach their potential before entering the world of further education. For this reason it is felt by some that day release to college is wholly inappropriate at the age of 14-15 and should not be necessary until towards the end of sixth form at 18 -19 years (for some that may be sooner according to need). In fact Part 4 of the statement dictates the school setting - this means that parents must agree if any changes are made, some of us have already refused the option of day release for our children.
This is a situation which affects children with high functioning sensory & social communication issues throughout West Sussex, as recognised by the Local Authority. The sixth form would give an alternative option for children from Littlegreen and other schools who have previously experienced similar problems with post 16 placements. The College SEN department have made some improvements in practice, additional training for staff etc. and attempts to accommodate as far as possible given the environmental and social setting. This option may still be wanted by parents or students and day release is an extremely useful introduction. For others we are satisfied that our children are receiving a suitable education at St.Anthony’s school and wish for them to remain there until 19. Social interaction and life skills are being appropriately taught in this setting as well as at home by responsible parents who interact well with the school’s highly qualified staff.
If specialist schools could plan transition from 14-19 they would be able to build in differentiated packages of supportive life skills and academic curriculum which would both enable students to manage themselves socially and selectively focus on their talents when moving on to Further Education. With only 15% of people with ASD’s in the UK in full time employment and given the talents which we as parents know that our children have the current situation is simply not an acceptable one – nor is it legally sound.
Having had agreement from the Local Authority regarding the lack of provision for these students – they have in Law made themselves liable to meet that need with immediate effect if they are to avoid judicial review and further legal action to enforce this. We would like to work in partnership with the Local Authority to ensure that the new sixth form continues the fantastic reputation of St. Anthony’s of which we are so proud and that our children are allowed to reach their potential as is their right.
Evelyn Ashford, Parent Governor –St. Anthony’s School,Co Founder of IMPACT SEN,Founder of Educational Equality
Janet-Stockley Pollard,Co Founder of IMPACT SEN
IMPACT SEN (Information & Motivation for Parental ACTION) West Sussex Parent Group to support Children with Special Educational Needs.